In 2007, Pacific Gas & Electric launched its Climate Smart program, which asked customers to agree to pay a little extra on each bill in order to fight global warming. The Public Utilities Commission gave the utlility permission to launch the plan with a budget of $16.3 million over three years. The money collected has been used to fund four in-state projects: three forest conservation efforts and one project to produce bioenergy by capturing methane (a greenhouse gas) from manure at a Bakersfield dairy.
A San Francisco Chronicle article recently revealed that the Climate Smart program has enrolled just 31,000 households, or .6% of its customer base. In its first two years, the program collected $2.6 million from participants. During the same two years, it cost $9.7 million to run. Many of the reader comments on the Chronicle’s website implied that those who participated in ClimateSmart were saps for giving their money to a program run by a giant utility company…or for believing in global warming in the first place.
Full disclosure: Call me a sap. I signed up for ClimateSmart as soon as it was offered and, according to my online bill, paid $47 extra in the last year to offset my emissions.
The program has not met expectations, though it has funded four projects and expects to offset one million tons of greenhouse gas emission by the end of this year, on a goal of 1.5 million tons. It has cost way more in operating budget than it has contributed to carbon offsetting, so far. There’s a sucker born every minute. I know that I signed up for Climate Smart because I was desperate to do something, as much as I could, to support business’s efforts to do the right thing and to make a tiny, relatively painless, contribution to fighting climate change. As the situation becomes more dire, certainly scams will become abundant, and mistakes will be made as we all are faced with the impacts of climate change. Climate Smart should be questioned, poked, analyzed, and maybe discontinued if its efforts do not measure up. We can look at laws, petitions, studies, inventions, donations, adaptation and mitigation. Sustainability is a path, not an answer. Programs will come and go, but the real enemies are inertia and cynicism. If we wait for the perfect solution, we will wait too long.
A redwood forest working to clear the air.
Photo: Paul Hami, Creative Commons from Flickr